Upon being introduced before every game, one of the first people members of the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team see is Ashley Bassett-Smith.

Upon being introduced before every game, one of the first people members of the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team see is Ashley Bassett-Smith.

The 6-foot-3 senior forward stands directly in front of the bench, slapping hands with the Panthers' starters as they take the floor and encouraging them as part of a pregame ritual.

But once the game starts, Bassett-Smith and her younger sister, Morgan, are relegated to watching, cheering and consulting from the bench.

"It's never easy to watch your teammates go out and know you can be contributing, but I'm more than happy to coach during the games and help them get better," said Morgan, a 6-1 sophomore forward.

The Bassett-Smith sisters, who transferred to North from Olentangy Orange last September, are ineligible to play for the Panthers this season.

Their final opportunity to compete this season was quashed last week when a Franklin County court upheld the Ohio High School Athletic Association's initial ruling that the Bassett-Smiths' move from the Olentangy Local School District to Pickerington was made for athletic reasons, which in OHSAA bylaws means the athlete in question must sit out one year of competition.

Morgan will regain eligibility next season. But Ashley, who signed to play for the University of Tennessee-Martin in November, will finish her high school career as a member of the scout team, voice of support and a coach of sorts.

"If the coaches can't really get through to the players maybe because the player is caught up in the moment, I get asked as a senior to talk to the post (players) and calm them down and tell them what they can do, little things to make themselves better," said Ashley, who was voted a captain by her teammates and often sits next to coach Dave Butcher during games. "We can't go out and play and win, but we're trying to do everything we can do to help them win."

One coincidence noted often by those around the Panthers' program is Ashley might have provided an inside presence not seen on a Butcher-coached team since LaToya Turner, who helped Pickerington, now Pickerington Central, to the Division I state title and a USA TODAY national championship in 1998-99 before going on to play at Ohio State.

Ashley averaged 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.6 blocks as a junior at Orange. She shot 56 percent from the field and 89 percent from the free-throw line and was named first-team all-OCC-Capital Division.

Despite not being eligible to play in games, Ashley goes all-out in practice, which sometimes makes things difficult for sophomore post players Brittany Johnson, Jordan Toohey and Jessie Wachtman.

"The three sophomore players have really gotten a lot more playing time than I even anticipated they would," Butcher said. "They'll shoot 20 shots a day in practice and Ashley will block seven or eight of them. She's probably a better defender than she is an offensive player, and we put her in there and they'll go up for a shot and it will go up against the wall. Ashley will smile, then do it five or six more times in a row. Then you put Morgan in and it's like twin towers. Then put some talented freshmen in with those girls and you have a heck of a scout team."

The Panthers consider this the best-case scenario short of having Ashley and Morgan on the court.

Their parents, James and Terri Bassett-Smith, appealed the OHSAA's original ineligibility ruling, but the OHSAA board of directors upheld it by an 8-0 vote in early December. The family then sued the OHSAA, but on Jan. 18 Magistrate Christine Lippe, working in conjunction with Commons Pleas Court Judge John Bender, upheld the OHSAA ruling that cited evidence from Orange that the family sparred with coach Mary Ann Grimes over mandatory summer workouts and then tried to circumvent the transfer rules.

"We have to move on and so do the girls," said Butcher, whose team was 14-1 overall and 8-1 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Central on Jan. 24. "This team has been successful and we have to move on. Hopefully we can prepare Ashley for college next year and have some influence on Morgan so she can be a major contributor in our program a year from now."

Ashley, who expects to play a wing position at UT-Martin rather than be a traditional post player, is putting in extra work on transition and long-range shooting. She said one of the toughest games to watch this season was the Panthers' 41-37 loss to Reynoldsburg on Dec. 16.

Reynoldsburg, which was 15-0 overall and 9-0 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Newark on Jan. 24, plays host to the Panthers on Friday, Jan. 27. Another win by the Raiders likely would eliminate North from league championship contention.

"This team treats us like any other member of the team," Ashley said. "We're still as much a part of the team as we were if we could play. It will never be fully fine just to sit there and watch, but it has gotten easier to watch as the year has gone on."